Flamingo Crescent upgrade shows what can be done

Daneel Knoetze
Margaret Papier and her partner Andrew Blanchard at their newly upgraded home in Flamingo Crescent. Photo by Daneel Knoetze.
Daneel Knoetze

The first few months of Margaret Papier’s stay in Flamingo Crescent, a shanty town in Lansdowne, were so rough that she considered moving back to her former home underneath Lansdowne Bridge. Now, after three years of upgrading, she and her partner have a modest yet comfortable and electrified home, with access to clean drinking water and a flush toilet outside their front door.

“There were many times when the project slowed down and came to a halt. But, I never lost hope. I prayed to God, and I knew that one day things will be better for us,” said Papier, all smiles at the launch of the reblocking project on Tuesday.

The informal settlement’s upgrade, although sometimes characterised by in-fighting between stakeholders, was on Tuesday lauded as a demonstration of the success that is possible when communities, civil society and local government work together to improve services and shelter in an area.

When Papier moved to Flamingo Crescent in 2005, crime and drug addiction was already rampant, she recalls. Many of the residents lived in structures little better than tents and 102 families shared two taps and fourteen portaloos.

“It was hell. We thought we had made a mistake, because things weren’t as bad under the bridge. Everyone was sick all the time and people were dying before it was their natural time to go, because of these conditions,” she said.

Now, concrete roads make it possible for emergency vehicles to access any home. Flush toilets, electrified households and taps abound.

“I’m feeling very happy and secure for the first time since I lost my job [in 2003]. I can look forward to having my name changed, because there is not so many other things to worry about,” she laughs, nudging her partner, Andrew Blanchard, whom she intends to marry.

The community welcomed Mayor Patricia de Lille, who joined with other stakeholders in launching the completed project, at the community’s newly built crèche which will be functional by the end of the month.

“I have a deep respect for people from the rural areas that take their destinies in their own hands and make the move to the cities in search of better opportunities for them and their families,” the mayor said.

“Rapid urbanization presents a challenge, of course. But, it also presents an opportunity to learn how to better manage urbanization, and to give people a decent place to live while they wait for a house.”

She asked for the Flamingo Crescent community’s continued involvement in reblocking and informal settlement upgrading in other areas, through teaching other communities how best to co-operate with government and other stakeholders.

A before and after look at Flamingo Crescent informal settlement which was upgraded between 2012 and this year. The project’s completion was marked by a launch on Tuesday.

“This taught us a lot, yes,” said resident and future teacher at the crèche Meralda Juries.

“And, we found that our neighbours have become a lot closer to one another through having to raise money and organise the upgrade.”

Aditya Kumar, an architect working with the Community Organisation Resource Centre (CORC) – a stakeholder in the project, said that the upgrading often challenged the City of Cape Town’s engineering and service delivery principles.

“To their credit, the City’s project managers were flexible and approached the reblocking with creativity. We had successfully negotiated that the upgrade happens in clusters, which meant people did not have to be relocated or live in alternative accommodation for longer than was needed to upgrade their homes. Such changes can improve how upgrades of other informal settlements are done in the future.”

Other stakeholders involved in Flamingo Crescent reblocking were South African Shack Dwellers International Alliance, the Informal Settlement Network, iKhayalami, Habitat for Humanity South Africa, and the Centre for Early Childhood Development.

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